When the historic riverboat Harriott II attempted to dock in its usual spot on the Alabama river on Saturday, the resulting argument between its co-captain and the boating group blocking the way turned into an instantly viral brawl — one that ended with at least three people with criminal charges, dozens of clips posted to social media, and an instant deluge of memes.
But the real winner of this whole thing, at least in the eyes of social media users, is a single plastic folding chair.
According to police and multiple videos of the incident (which are shot from almost every conceivable angle), the fight that is now being referred to as the “Montgomery Brawl,” began with a simple request that the riverboat captain, Damien Pickett, move the boat. The Harriott II was attempting to dock in its usual spot along the city’s Riverfront Park, but was blocked by a pontoon filled with boaters.
After trying and failing to get the pontoon to move for almost 45 minutes, Pickett took a small boat to the dock to speak with the boaters. The group was “hostile” and began attacking Pickett, Darryl Albert, the Montgomery Police Chief, said in a press conference.
But while Pickett, who is Black, began the fight outnumbered by the boaters, who are largely white, several Black bystanders came to his defense, eventually turning the fight into an all-out battle. Footage captured by bystanders shows a Harriot II employee jumping in the river and swimming to Pickett’s aid, a group of three men cantering up to join the fight, and even a pair of white Crocs being turned into anklets by the sheer force of body slams. But the clip that seems to have resonated with people the most is footage of an older Black man indiscriminately hitting the white assailants over the head with a simple white folding chair, WWE-style.
Since videos of the fight were first posted online on Saturday, the amount of content inspired by the Montgomery fight has ballooned. And while the hashtag #montgomerybrawl has more than 100 million views on TikTok and thousands of videos analyzing each angle, slowing down the fight to focus on each individual punch — even giving the fighters clever names, like AquaMayne and Scuba Gooding Jr. —, the one throughline is the comedic importance of the folding chair.
In the past five days, the chair has gone from a one-off prop to the hero of the whole fight. One day after the fight, several Montgomery residents posted photos of themselves at the dock, holding up what appears to be the same chair in the video. At least two TikTok users have even claimed that the chair has gotten so popular that stock is low at Montgomery’s Walmarts and Targets. Singer Joy Oladokun even got the folding chair tattooed on her arm.
When police identified the man wielding the folding chair as 42-year-old Reggie Gray, and asked him to come in for questioning, people on Twitter immediately began feigning ignorance. “What chair? I didn’t see a chair! Y’all better leave Uncle Reggie alone!” wrote one user. “Look at them making stuff up already,” said another. “There was NEVER a black man holding a folding chair.” There’s even a rap about the fight slowly gaining traction on TikTok, which gives Gray and his folding chair their own shoutout.
Detroit rapper Gmac Cash released his song “Montgomery Brawl” as both a comedic take on the situation and as an explainer as to how the fight started. “Now y’all done started some shit so we gone finish it. And this time err’body bout to witness it,” he raps to the beat. “Bro told ‘em to move just doin’ his job” / “But y’all wanted to jump him now we got a prob.” Gary and his folding chair get two shoutouts in the song, which has more than a million views across Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. “The chair just was the icing on the cake honestly, because it reminds you of wrestling,” he tells Rolling Stone.
With meme production in full overload, it’s easy to dismiss the response to the fight as just online humor. But the real reason the videos hit so hard is because of the underlying desire for Black people to see their community fighting back. On an almost daily basis, it feels like there are viral videos of Black people in America being unable to defend themselves, being targeted, or being victims. But for many people online, the Montgomery brawl, as outrageous as it was, represented the opposite: Black people standing up for themselves.
Moreover, the dock where the brawl took place is a historic location, one where Black slaves arrived in Montgomery before they were taken into the city and sold to plantation owners. The town itself was also a major historical battleground for Civil Rights, where Rosa Parks’ bus boycott and other protests against segregation occurred. Some people even noted that the folding chair has historic significance to the Black community, as an early design (though not the first) was patented by Black inventor Nathaniel Alexander in 1911, according to Google Patents.
Online, the general consensus seems to be that the fight wasn’t just a physical altercation. In a way, it was representative of a Black community willing to take wins as they come — even in the form of a white folding chair.
“Comedy is basically one of them things that brings [the Black Community] closer,” Gmac Cash adds. “Laughing even through the hard times.”